Late fall signals the time to winterize the Dollar Lake cabin. It’s time to flush the pipes, put the porch furniture away, and cover the inside furniture with drop cloths. For us human occupants it is time to prepare the place for months of relative un-occupancy. I say “relative” because in the absence of humans it becomes a mouse kingdom. There are times when I feel that we are the intruders. We move in, muss about for a few days at a time over the summer, and force the original residents into a shadowy reclusive existence. They must sneak about under the cover of darkness lest they attract unwanted (and potentially deadly) attention from the “two-leggers.”
Other than the presence of a few filched peanut shells and scattered droppings, the White-footed Mice of the “Muskrat Lodge” (our quaint name for the cabin) do their best to remain incognito most of the time. They begin their winter cabin preparations about a month before we do, however, and the two activities are diametrically opposed. We empty our cupboards while they proceed to fill theirs. We remove the boxes of Pop Tarts and Spaghetti Noodles and they bring in acorns- lots of acorns.
The cabin yard is host to three different kinds of oak trees; Red, White, and – as I was to find out – a Northern Pin Oak. For a nut-lover such as a White-footed Mouse, the seasonal bounty is an answer to all manner of squeaky prayer. Nuts spell survival. This has been a banner year for acorn production and it is the job of all self-respecting cabin mice to cache as many of these survival gems as possible.
For them, “our” place becomes a giant warehouse burrow with countless niches. While we may never find the behind-the-wall or under-the-whatever caches, we did uncover two of the locations.
Pulling away the cover quilt on the bed, 14 acorns populated the space between the pillows. A much larger stash was uncovered in the bathroom. There were 40 nuts piled in the corner of the bathroom drawer next to the disposable razor and the allergy pills. A single acorn sat atop the rolled tan hand towel on the upper tier between the green floral and brown ones and yet another was nestled in the lower tier between the moss green and blue & white floral.
In all, I found 56 acorns. I assembled the caches and piled them collectively on the coffee table for examination. This collection obviously represented a selective process. All were capless, and uniformly sized, with the exception of the lower tier nut which was significantly larger. Striped and slightly fuzzy, they were quite handsome – certainly by mouse standards and possibly even by human standards. I went outside to investigate the mouse’s marketplace to find which department offered this exact product.
Most the oaks in the immediate yard are White or Red oak variety. The ground is littered with them but they were not represented in the cabin mouse’s cache at all. A smaller tree, whose trunk is located about 15 feet from the south side of the place, proved to be the source. It was a Northern Pin Oak. I am ashamed to say, as naturalist, that I hadn’t bothered to identify this tree before. Since this tree was not the closest one to the cabin, I can only suspect that it was a matter of taste and portability. “I’d walk a mile for a Northern Pin Oak” is apparently a popular cabin mouse ad phrase with the additional “and, I can walk a mile with a Pin Oak Acorn” as an amendment. Northern Pin Oaks are mouse-sized bites of survival.
I felt guilty in removing the nut piles (for some odd reason my wife refused to sleep with the nuts rolling around the pillow). Although the pillow acorns involved multiple short journeys – one nut at a time- between 10 and 15 feet, the bathroom collection represented a much more majestic effort. As far as I can figure, this trip involved 42 wall-hugging round trips of about 80 feet each; out the bedroom, right along the side wall under the corner table and then left along the wall towards the front door, past and under the wall furnace, a dash across the kitchen floor and a righty into the bathroom, a three foot ascent up the side of the bathroom shelf and into the drawer. One half of each trip with an acorn stuffed within its maw.
So, as a peace offering of sorts, I piled the acorns in the far corner of the living room as we left on a two week absence. I’m hoping the cabin mouse (or mice) can find a way to creatively re-distribute their wealth around their house.